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Picture: SUPPLIED/EBONY+IVORY
Picture: SUPPLIED/EBONY+IVORY

The Publisher Audience Measurement Survey (PAMS) 2019 reports that there are 17.3-million households in SA with the SEM (socioeconomic measure) C3, accounting for 6.3-million (36%) of all households and 38.5% of the adult population.

Within this “all adult” population (defined as age 15+) of 41.8-million, the highest concentration of youth (age 15 to 24) is found in SEM C1 26% compared with the national average of 22%.

Market segments

CI: Traditional Market/Rural

C3: Middle Market

C4: Upper Middle

C5: Elite

There is a steady regression on this variable until we reach SEM C5, where only 15% of the population is represented by youth. 

This age regression across the SEM spectrum has significant implications for all marketers, particularly at the top end of the market, and challenges many of the conventions which might lead to an overemphasis on youth-focused communication. 

In the SEM C1 sector, 61% is rural, but this orientation begins to tilt towards urban and metropolitan areas from SEM C3. 

At the top end of the market, in SEM C5, over 90% of the market is found in urban or major metropolitan areas. The big three metros Gauteng, Cape Town and eThekwini account for a high percentage of these high-end consumers. 

About two out of every three SEM C5 consumers (63%) come from these major centres. 

As we shift the focus further down the cluster scale, the contribution of the big three metros diminishes dramatically.

Contribution of the Big 3 Metros


SEM C1: 19%

SEM C2: 20%

SEM C3: 37%

SEM C4: 56%

SEM C5: 63%

This, coupled with the increase in African languages as home language, highlights the over-reliance of advertisers on English and Afrikaans for communication and the need for marketers to develop a more agile approach to planning and measuring return on investment on a regional basis.

A media campaign that is restricted to the big three metros will only address just over half the consumers in SEM C4, and only one in three in the big middle market (SEM C3).

What is also important to note is that one in five (22%) of SEM C1 consumers have their homes in metropolitan areas. 

Eighty-three percent of SEM C5 lives in free-standing houses, with the balance living in cluster homes or apartments. Homes in SEM C1 are characterised by a high incidence of traditional huts (27%), shacks (25%) and some RDP houses (12%). In rural areas, 42% of all SEM C1 adults live in a traditional hut, whereas in metropolitan areas 62% of the SEM C1 segment and 32% of SEM C4 live in a temporary structure or shack.

There are fewer indicators that better illustrate SA’s alarming disparate wealth distribution than dwelling structures. This is a critical variable in the SEM segmentation weightings.

While most consumers across the spectrum have access to electricity in the home, only 1% of SEM C1 consumers have access to running water in the home. 

Less than 1% of households have a flushing toilet in the home compared with 51% in SEM C3. It is only from SEM C4 that the incidence of flushing toilets in the home increases to more than 90%. 

Mobility is a critical limitation for those living at the bottom end of the market and particularly for those in rural areas. According to the Outdoor Measurement Council Road survey, the average South African visits about four distinct destinations in any week. This remains consistent across the full SEM spectrum. Access to transport, however, is a major axis of polarisation. 

Only 1% of SEM C1 has a vehicle in the household compared with 98% for SEM C5. This does not mean that people at the lower end of the SEM spectrum are totally homebound. When leaving the home, 49% of SEM C1 travel in a car each week and they also have the highest incidence of minibus taxi usage of all the SEM segments.  

What varies is the nature of the out-of-home event and the destination itself. Forty percent of SEM C1 travel to a place of worship each week compared with only 29% in SEM C5. Visiting friends is a consistent travel activity, averaging about 46% in the lower SEM clusters, declining at the top end (42%  in SEM C4 and 40% in SEM C5). This reliance on external transport highlights the importance of remote communication. 

Even in SEM C1, 85% of consumers have a mobile phone compared with only 61% owning a TV set. The ubiquitous nature of the mobile phone and the high incidence of these devices in even the most remote and impoverished communities represents the single most important media opportunity for marketers and advertisers in SA. 

In the next segment of this blog series for marketers, Ebony+Ivory analyses purchasing power in SA. Get in touch for your company’s media and market segmentation analysis.

Watch the video below:

About the Ebony+Ivory Marketing Segmentation SA series

Drawing data and insights from the most recently published industry database PAMS 2019 (released April 2020) and the Nielsen Fusion Study 2020 (released November 2020), Ebony+Ivory interrogates the SEM model through the following four lenses in the Ebony+Ivory Marketing Segmentation SA series: People and Places; Purchasing Power; Products; and Platforms. 

This article was paid for by Ebony+Ivory.

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